Report: Utah's growth rate to fall, but population will still increase 66% in the next 40 years

Utah is already the nation's fastest-growing state and a new report published Wednesday finds there are really no signs that'll change anytime soon, even if the rate might slow down slightly quicker than originally projected.

Utah's population is projected to reach close to 5.5 million by 2060, an increase of about 2.2 million people or a 66% increase over the next 40 years, according to "Utah Long-Term Planning Projections," a report released Wednesday by the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The institute says the state is on track to reach 4 million residents by 2033 and 5 million by 2051.

It also projects about 1.3 million more jobs over the next four decades, with construction jobs leading the way in new work opportunities.

"These changes will be experienced differently throughout the state, with Salt Lake and Utah counties continuing to be dominant drivers for both the population and the economy," Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research at the Gardner Institute, said in a statement. "Demographic shifts impact our statewide characteristics of age and households throughout these projections."

Inside the projections

The 22-page document is an update to a similar report released in 2017, but using the 2020 census, as well as new modeling and data information over five years to adjust projections. Most of the population growth trends remain the same although the new report projects 104,825 fewer people living in Utah by 2060 than the report issued in 2017.

Either projection signals a slowdown from the past four decades, when Utah's population tripled. The 1980 census found about 1.06 million people lived in the state in 1980, with nearly 3.3 million two years ago — a population increase of 210% in the past 40 years.

While the rate would drop significantly, the growth in the total number of people in the state would be about the same at about 2.2 million.

This graph shows U.S. Census population from 1980 through 2020, with the Gardner Policy Institute projections added from 2030 through 2060.
This graph shows U.S. Census population from 1980 through 2020, with the Gardner Policy Institute projections added from 2030 through 2060. |

Southwest Utah is expected to be the state's fastest-growing region during this time, according to the report. The Southwest Economic Region is expected to add over 330,000 more residents, doubling in the next 40 years.

Most of that growth will be in Washington County, which is projected to add the third-most number of people over the next four decades. If so, the county would have over 460,000 people by 2060. It had about 180,000 residents in 2020.

That said, the report also pinpoints Utah County, which has already emerged as a fast-growing county, to be the fastest-growing county in terms of absolute growth, or total people over the next four decades. Analysts estimates that nearly 674,000 residents will end up in Utah County, besting Salt Lake County by about 190,000 people over time.

Those two counties are also expected to produce the majority of the 1.3 million jobs anticipated to be added by 2060. The report projects the two counties, which currently account for 71% of industry employment, to account for three out of every four new jobs.

Given the growth and the infrastructure that would demand, it's also no surprise that construction is expected to be the leading employment growth industry between 2020 and 2060. The institute estimates that construction will produce over 200,000 new job opportunities.

The professional/technical services, health, retail trade and administrative/waste services industries follow construction in anticipated employment growth over the next few decades.

Behind the rate slowdown

Aside from running out of space, age is a big reason for the slowdown. Utah's population is projected to get older, resulting in declining household sizes.

The percentage of Utahns under 18 has already dropped from 31.5% to about 29% over the past decade. The institute projects that will continue to decline annually until it's 20.3% by 2060, based on projected trends. The median age is projected to increase from 32 in 2020 to 42 by 2060. For context, the Census Bureau estimated the average age in the U.S. was 38.2 in 2018, up from 37.2 in 2010.

The institute's projection carries over into how many people are in the average household.

The 2020 census data on household size is expected later this year; however, the Gardner Institute estimates the average Utah household dropped slightly from 3.11 to 3.06. It projects that the average household size will continue to decrease annually over time, falling to 2.45 people per household by 2060.

"Changing household dynamics and an aging population both play roles in this different growth rate and household composition," the report states.

This trend and all the others projected in the report require "great public policy" to plan for, said institute director, Natalie Gochnour. She said she believes the report will help provide "accurate, long-term population projections (that) will help business, government and community leaders better plan for the future."

This story will be updated.